Three Taliban leaders secretly met with Afghanistan's president two weeks ago in an effort to weaken the US-led coalition's most vicious enemy, a powerful al-Qaeda linked network that straddles the border region with Pakistan.
Held in Kabul, the meeting included a wanted former Taliban governor and an imprisoned militant who were flown to the capital from the Pakistani city of Peshawar, according to a former Afghan official. The talks were not directly linked to the Afghan government's efforts to broker a peace with the Taliban and find a political resolution to the insurgency.
Rather, they were part of an effort to weaken the Haqqani network, the former official said over the weekend. A Western official, who spoke anonymously, confirmed that a meeting between President Hamid Karzai and Taliban figures had taken place, but did not know its full details or the names of all the participants.
Led by the ailing Jalaluddin Haqqani and controlled by his son, Sirajuddin, the network is thought to be responsible for most attacks against US troops in eastern Afghanistan and has been a key US military target. The network is linked to al-Qaeda and is believed to be sheltering its second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri.
Weakening the network would take the pressure off US forces and bolster Karzai's efforts to broker some kind of peace with the Taliban in portions of the country. The Taliban leaders who met with Karzai are: Maulvi Abdul Kabir, the governor of eastern Nangarhar province during Taliban rule and the current head of the Taliban's Peshawar council; his deputy governor in the Taliban regime, Sedre Azam; and Anwar-ul-Haq Mujahed, a militant leader from eastern Afghanistan credited with helping Osama bin Laden escape the US assault on Tora Bora in 2001, the former official said.
The men were brought by helicopter from Peshawar in neighboring Pakistan and driven into Kabul. Mujahed has been in Pakistani custody since June last year when he was picked up in a raid in Peshawar. Kabir is on the US most wanted list. They spent two nights at a heavily fortified hotel in the Afghan capital before returning to Peshawar by helicopter, where Mujahed was placed again in custody. The US earlier this month acknowledged facilitating some Taliban trips to Kabul but provided no specifics.
The Pakistani military has not commented on such reports. The former Afghan official, who asked not to be named, described Kabir and his associates as "midlevel" contacts because they have little, if any influence over the more powerful Quetta and Waziristan shuras. Those two shuras provide leadership for the majority of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and are overseen by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the fanatical one-eyed Taliban leader.
Karzai has formed a 70-member High Peace Council in an effort to try to reconcile with Taliban and find a political solution to the insurgency. The Taliban say their leaders will not discuss peace with the government unless foreign troops first leave Afghanistan.